Union at 'reprieved' pit votes for closure: Labour to demand explanation from Heseltine as industry sources say time is running out for mines

MINERS at one of the 'reprieved' collieries threatened with closure voted last night to accept their pit being shut down.

Members of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers at Rufford colliery in Nottinghamshire voted by 226 to 206 to carry on working until the current face runs out of coal around the end of the year. The decision amounts to an agreement not to take industrial action over the loss of the pit.

Two more of the 12 mines 'reprieved' under the White Paper on the coal industry are also expected to be shut down, sparking a fresh row over pit closures.

At Markham, in Derbyshire, members of the National Union of Mineworkers meet today after a warning from management of 'serious concerns' over the mine's long-term prospects.

The third pit at risk has not been named. But union sources said that Silverdale in Staffordshire was the most likely to go, with Frickley and Kiveton, both in Yorkshire, also at risk.

Robin Cook, Labour trade and industry spokesman, has accused Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, of misleading Parliament over the future of the pits and will demand an explanation in the Commons on Monday.

British Coal said that no decision had been taken to close the mines, but an industry source said: 'The guys at the pits know when they have been dealt a bad hand. They know that the performance of the mines is of grave concern. Obviously it is not something that can be put up with for any length of time.'

Should miners take redundancy before Christmas, they will receive pounds 10,000 on top of the normal redundancy package - seen by unions as an added pressure to force the men to go.

Mr Cook said: 'The White Paper was always a fraud and is now exposed as a fraud.' In a letter to Mr Heseltine he said that without action to prevent the closures by securing more coal sales, the White Paper will be seen as an exercise to delude Conservative backbenchers.

Bill Morris, general secretary of the transport workers' union TGWU, urged an emergency meeting of the TUC general council to mobilise opposition to the closures.

The review of the industry and the subsequent White Paper followed the announcement last October that 31 pits would close with the loss of 30,000 jobs. In spite of the outcry at the time, 19,000 people have left the industry and a further 3,000 white-collar jobs are earmarked to go.

The closure of the three pits at the heart of the current controversy would bring the total numbers well towards the original aim of shedding 30,000 jobs.

Production has halted at 19 of the 31 mines. British Coal has always said that the future of the 12 reprieved pits depends entirely on obtaining agreement with National Power and PowerGen to buy more coal on top of current five-year contracts. But generators have 34 million tonnes stockpiled and want to run these down.

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